The outstanding 20-year-old rookie, an early candidate for the Calder Trophy, was injured Friday in the first period of a game the streaking Canucks lost 2-1 in overtime against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Canucks dominated the first 35 minutes, outshooting the Ducks 32-10 on Anaheim’s lumpy ice, but still needed a late bank-shot goal from Adam Gaudette to leave with one point in the National Hockey League standings.
But Vancouver could lose several more points over time if Hughes, who appeared to torque his left ankle when he fell on his own while pivoting in the neutral zone, is out for a lengthy period. Fortunately for the Canucks, the initial prognosis is Hughes will be back soon.
The dynamo who co-led NHL rookie scoring with 10 points in 12 games – as a defenceman – will be re-examined Saturday in San Jose and may even play that night against the Sharks when the Canucks end their three-game California tour.
“I don’t think it’s anything too crazy, so that’s good,” veteran centre Brandon Sutter said of the injury. “We just keep going. Anytime someone goes down, everyone’s just worried about their next shift. We don’t dwell on it too much. Hopefully it’s something pretty small and we’ll see him real soon here.”
“It’s obviously something you never want to see. . . especially your defensive partner,” Chris Tanev, who is Hughes’s defence partner, told reporters. “He’s been so good for us throughout the first 11 or 12 games. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious. It sort of looked like he toe-picked or caught an edge or something. But like I said, hopefully it’s nothing serious and he’s back sooner rather than later.”
Why the concern about a rookie with 18 games of total NHL experience?
It’s not hyperbole to say the Canucks have never had a defenceman as dynamic as Hughes, who has played in Vancouver’s top-four since the season began and went into Friday’s game averaging 20:20 of ice time, second among all NHL freshman.
He has been a catalyst in the Canucks’ surging power play and the 8-1-1 tear the team carried into Anaheim. The Canucks control 55.6 per cent of even-strength shot attempts when Hughes is on the ice.
“He’s super skilled,” Tanev said. “He’s a tremendous player. He skates, he moves the puck, he’s quarterbacking the power play. As I said, it’s a big loss and hopefully he’s back soon.”
Hughes played nearly half of the first 15 minutes before he went down. Skating quickly back towards his zone as the Ducks rushed up ice, Hughes pivoted and appeared to stub his toe. His ankle was jarred and he fell forward on to his knees. Play was stopped and he was able to get up and, with referee Kyle Rehman’s help, limp off the ice and to the Canucks dressing room.
The team soon announced Hughes would not return due to a “lower-body” injury.
His absence was immediately felt on the Canucks’ power play, which pumped in four goals during Vancouver’s 5-3 win Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings, but went 0-for-5 against the Ducks.
Even before Hughes fell on his own, it looked like the ice at the Honda Center might be poor. Despite getting outshot 19-5 in the opening period, the Ducks scored the only goal shorthanded with the help of a couple of bounces.
Hughes stopped a rush by Rickard Rakell, but the puck tumbled away from the Canuck just inside the Vancouver blue line. With Jakob Silfverberg skating after it, Canucks winger J.T. Miller had an angle to cut off the Duck or collect the puck. He did neither, as the puck hopped past his stick. Suddenly on a breakaway, Silfverberg roofed a forehand over goalie Jacob Markstrom’s left shoulder.
“It was a bit weird, to be honest,” Canucks winger Tanner Pearson, who played five years in Los Angeles, said of the ice conditions. “You’re in California; it’s hot outside. You kind of expect it. It was so-so.”
The Canucks trailed for 40 minutes and 14 seconds before tying it at 13:42 of the third period. For all the pressure and shots Vancouver generated in the first two periods, Gaudette’s goal banked in off the skate of Anaheim defenceman Korbinian Holzer as the Canuck tried to return a pass to Sutter, who had dished it wide on an outnumbered rush.
The Canucks survived a controversial delay of game call against Markstrom late in the third period when the goalie was penalized for coming out of his crease to cover a loose puck as Anaheim forward Max Comtois hovered over him. Tanev made two key blocks on the penalty kill, the second with his butt as he fearlessly slid in front of Silfverberg’s one-timer.
But the Ducks won it at 2:30 of overtime when Markstrom gambled and raced for the puck but was rounded by Ryan Getzlaf, who scored easily on the breakaway.
“He got the puck and his first touch wasn’t the best,” Markstrom explained. “I thought I had him beat and I didn’t. That’s the read I had. It’s always easy to say now I should have stayed in, but I didn’t. It’s a tough loss when we played such a good game.”
On the late penalty call against him, which appeared to be correct under Rule 63.2, Markstrom said: “I still think it’s really weird. I didn’t get that penalty at all. I don’t agree with it, but also I’m not 100 per cent sure what the rule is, and I think the referees know the rules better than I do.”
Shots finished 40-29 for Vancouver. One that didn’t count as a shot was Elias Pettersson’s wrister off the bar in the final second of regulation time.
The Canucks are 8-1-2 since starting the season with two losses and have outshot opponents in nine straight games.